What is the new whistleblower policy in Australia?

In March 2019, the Australian Federal Government passed its new whistleblower legislation. As a result, Australian business need to have a whistleblower policy. It is designed to ensure that people have the ability to remain anonymous when they report on people or businesses involved in unethical or unlawful behaviour. To help drive compliance, a business will face penalties of up to $10.5 million if they fail to follow the new federal whistleblower laws. That level of fine is crippling to the majority of Australian businesses.

This article will cover the following:

  • What Are The New Whistleblower Laws?
  • What is a Whistleblower Policy?
  • Who Can Be a Whistleblower?
  • Who Needs a Whistleblower Policy?
  • The Consequences of Whistleblower Policy Breach

What is a whistleblower?

A whistleblower is a person who calls out misconduct of a person or organisation that is considered unlawful or immoral activity.

According to the ASIC website, whistleblowers are valuable informants who highlight misconduct that may have otherwise remained undiscovered for a longer period of time. 

What Are The New Whistleblower Laws in Australia?

In March of 2019, the Australian Federal Government introduced new changes to the whistleblower legislation. In April 2019, these changes were enacted known as, ‘The Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Act 2019 (Act)’. This then passed both houses of Parliament and commenced on 1 July 2019.

Firstly, the aim of these changes are to make employers accountable for protecting whistleblowers. In turn this will reduce unethical, illegal, corrupt and fraudulent conduct.

Moreover, the Act makes significant changes to the existing Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) and the Taxation Administration Act 1953(Cth), and will affect nearly all Australian businesses. 

What is a Whistleblower Policy?

A whistleblower policy is a publicly available legal document that businesses need to make accessible for all employees and contractors. 

To sum up, the new policy must include information about the following:

  • What protections are available to a whistleblower?
  • If employees wish to disclose information, who do they speak to and what is the process they can follow?
  • Outline the measures taken to support whistleblowers and protect their privacy.
  • Describes the investigation process a business will take when whistleblowers disclose information.
  • How the business will ensure fair treatment now and in the future of whistleblowers.
  • Finally, where and how the whistleblower policy will be made available to employees of the company.

Who Can Be a Whistleblower?

Changes made to the Corporations Act have broadened the definition of a whistleblower. As a result ASIC has described a whistleblower to include pretty much anyone involved with a business and their relatives:

  • Current employees
  • Former employees
  • Contractors
  • Employees of contractors
  • Associates
  • Trustee
  • And relatives or dependants of the aforementioned

In addition the new laws also permit anonymous disclosures to protect the whistleblower’s identity.

table1-criteriaforwhistleblowerASIC2

Criteria for protection as a whistleblower. For more information please visit Whistleblower rights and protections, ASIC website.

Who Needs a Whistleblower Policy?

In short, the majority of Australian business will need a whistleblower policy. Businesses that meet two out of the three following classifications must have a whistleblower policy: 

  • Headcount: number of employees in the business is 100 or more.
  • Revenue: consolidated revenue for the financial year of the business is $50 million or more.
  • Assets: value of gross assets at the end of the financial year of the business is $25 million or more.

The Consequences of a Whistleblower Policy Breach

Australian Government may fine a business that breaches the new whistleblowing laws up to $10.5 million.

However, it doesn’t stop there. In addition, penalties will be given to individuals too.

For example, if a relative breaches the confidentiality of a whistleblower’s identity, the fines can amount up to a whopping $1.05 million. 

In conclusion, Australian business should not take the new whistleblower laws lightly. Worknice can help, contact us now for support.

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